An encounter at Starbucks inspires a Holt adoptee to discuss the assumptions strangers sometimes make about race.
I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I had recently embarked on this new journey to “The City of Angels” and was excited and hopeful. I had a plan of stepping stones with which to approach the city and make a name for myself.
I was on my way to meet one of my best friends at the Grove in Hollywood. It is a famous landmark, filled with shops, restaurants, and the Farmer’s Market. They have a Starbucks in the Barnes & Noble there, so to kill time, I went to get a coffee until my friend arrived.
(To preface, the tsunami had just struck Japan, so you can see where this story is going).
The line was long, and when it was my turn, I ordered my coffee and waited for the barista to ring me up and ask for my card. There was an awkward silence.
Out of nowhere she said, “Hey, are you okay?”
I smiled. “Yeah, of course. How are you doing?”
She acted hesitant. “Fine. I just … am so sorry.”
“Sorry? Sorry for what?”
“For your people. The disaster … it’s just awful. I’m glad you are okay and I hope your family is safe as well.”
“I’m sorry, are you talking about the tsunami?” I couldn’t believe I was hearing this. “That is so nice, but I’m not from Japan. I’m not even Japanese. Haha. I’m American.”
“Oh. I just assumed that you were involved.”
Bless her heart. “No, I wasn’t. My family lives in America and we are quite safe. But thank you for your concern.”
“No problem. Sorry. I don’t mean to sound racist.”
“You’re good, girl. Have a great day!”
I could’ve taken offense to what she said. Maybe I should have. But I only felt that word “ignorance” again and just let it roll off. She obviously meant well, and I’m sure she felt stupid by “assuming.”
In a coincidence, the same thing happened to me in New York City when I was visiting a couple weeks later. A man on the street bowed at me with his palms together and sent his condolences for the tragedy.
People are so funny. But when will racial assumptions be erased from American society? I don’t have an accent. I don’t dress out of the ordinary. To me, I am just like them. American.
My guess is that it will never be that easy. I wish her the best, though, and the best for the tsunami victims. But for me, I am Korean-American adopted, and I am proud to be an American citizen.
Marisha Castle, an adoptee born in Korea, is an actor, singer/songwriter, dancer, choreographer and writer. Contact her at [email protected].